(Bloomberg) -- The Frenchman charged in the US with defrauding buyers of his “Mutant Ape Planet” non-fungible tokens out of more than $2.9 million in cryptocurrency has hired Bernard Madoff’s lead criminal defense lawyer.
Aurelien Michel, who was arrested earlier this month at a New York City airport, tapped Ira Sorkin and his law firm Mintz & Gold LLP to represent him in the matter, the lawyer confirmed by telephone Tuesday.
Sorkin said he and his colleagues Adam Brody and Halle Preston are seeking to get Michel, 24, released on bail. Michel’s first bail package was rejected as “insufficient” by a judge at a hearing on Jan. 10, court records show.
“That’s an issue we’re discussing with the government and we’re optimistic he’ll be able to make bail” at the next hearing, which is happening “soonish,” said Sorkin, a former federal prosecutor and a top enforcement lawyer at the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
Michel, who lives in the United Arab Emirates, is accused of falsely promising buyers of the NFTs exclusive rewards and benefits that he claimed were designed to increase demand for the unique images and boost their value.
Sorkin declined to comment on the allegations against his client.
Michel sought to take advantage of the broader ape-themed NFT trend in 2022 by offering 9,999 images of mutant apes that were minted starting on Feb. 4. The NFTs, sold on the Ethereum blockchain, cost about $468 each when the collection launched, based on the price of the Ether at the time, the US said.
Madoff, who in 2009 pleaded guilty to fraud and money laundering after running one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in history, died in prison almost two years ago. He was serving a 150-year prison term.
The case is USA v. Michel, 1:23-mj-00007, US District Court for the Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).
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